I got down to Yarmouth in the evening, and went to the inn. I knew that Peggotty’s spare room—my room—was likely to have occupation enough in a little while, if that great Visitor, before whose presence all the living must give place, were not already in the house; so I betook myself to the inn, and dined there, and engaged my bed.
It was ten o’clock when I went out. Many of the shops were shut, and the town was dull. When I came to Omer and Joram’s, I found the shutters up, but the shop door standing open. As I could obtain a perspective view of Mr. Omer inside, smoking his pipe by the parlour door, I entered, and asked him how he was.
‘Why, bless my life and soul!’ said Mr. Omer, ‘how do you find yourself? Take a seat.—-Smoke not disagreeable, I hope?’
‘By no means,’ said I. ‘I like it—in somebody else’s pipe.’
‘What, not in your own, eh?’ Mr. Omer returned, laughing. ‘All the better, sir. Bad habit for a young man. Take a seat. I smoke, myself, for the asthma.’
Mr. Omer had made room for me, and placed a chair. He now sat down again very much out of breath, gasping at his pipe as if it contained a supply of that necessary, without which he must perish.
‘I am sorry to have heard bad news of Mr. Barkis,’ said I.
Mr. Omer looked at me, with a steady countenance, and shook his head.
‘Do you know how he is tonight?’ I asked.
‘The very question I should have put to you, sir,’ returned Mr. Omer, ‘but on account of delicacy. It’s one of the drawbacks of our line of business. When a party’s ill, we can’t ask how the party is.’
The difficulty had not occurred to me; though I had had my apprehensions too, when I went in, of hearing the old tune. On its being mentioned, I recognized it, however, and said as much.
‘Yes, yes, you understand,’ said Mr. Omer, nodding his head. ‘We dursn’t do it. Bless you, it would be a shock that the generality of parties mightn’t recover, to say “Omer and Joram’s compliments, and how do you find yourself this morning?”—or this afternoon—as it may be.’
Mr. Omer and I nodded at each other, and Mr. Omer recruited his wind by the aid of his pipe.
‘It’s one of the things that cut the trade off from attentions they could often wish to show,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Take myself. If I have known Barkis a year, to move to as he went by, I have known him forty years. But I can’t go and say, “how is he?”’
I felt it was rather hard on Mr. Omer, and I told him so.
‘I’m not more self-interested, I hope, than another man,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Look at me! My wind may fail me at any moment, and it ain’t likely that, to my own knowledge, I’d be self-interested under such circumstances. I say it ain’t likely, in a man who knows his wind will go, when it DOES go, as if a pair of bellows was cut open; and that man a grandfather,’ said Mr. Omer.
I said, ‘Not at all.’
‘It ain’t that I complain of my line of business,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘It ain’t that. Some good and some bad goes, no doubt, to all callings. What I wish is, that parties was brought up stronger-minded.’
Mr. Omer, with a very complacent and amiable face, took several puffs in silence; and then said, resuming his first point:
‘Accordingly we’re obleeged, in ascertaining how Barkis goes on, to limit ourselves to Em’ly. She knows what our real objects are, and she don’t have any more alarms or suspicions about us, than if we was so many lambs. Minnie and Joram have just stepped down to the house, in fact (she’s there, after hours, helping her aunt a bit), to ask her how he is tonight; and if you was to please to wait till they come back, they’d give you full partic’lers. Will you take something? A glass of srub and water, now? I smoke on srub and water, myself,’ said Mr. Omer, taking up his glass, ‘because it’s considered softening to the passages, by which this troublesome breath of mine gets into action. But, Lord bless you,’ said Mr. Omer, huskily, ‘it ain’t the passages that’s out of order! “Give me breath enough,” said I to my daughter Minnie, “and I’ll find passages, my dear.”’